IN PHOTOS

Ladakh’s tourism boom is slowly changing the age-old way of life in a corner of the Indian Himalayas

Quartz india
Quartz india

Nestled high up in the Indian Himalayas, Ladakh was first opened up to tourists only in 1974. That year, just 527 visitors made the trip; of these, only 27 were from India. But in recent years, with rising disposable incomes and a growing interest in travel, Indians are increasingly flocking to the region’s high-altitude villages, encouraged by better accessibility and the proliferation of package tours.

In 2017, the number of tourist arrivals in Ladakh is expected to be 313,000, government estimates say. That’s 10 times the figure for 2002.

It’s not difficult to fathom why: Ladakh’s windswept landscape and icy lakes are a world away from the noise and crowd of metropolises such as New Delhi and Mumbai. The region, which borders Tibet on the east, is home to thousands of ethnic Tibetans whose unique Buddhist culture permeates the small towns and villages. Ladakh also has a large Shia Muslim population.

And while the tourism boom has improved the lifestyle of Ladakh’s 280,000 residents, it’s also threatening the local culture and traditions. “Now we can eat better vegetables and wear better clothes,” Tashi Phutit, an 81-year old wheat farmer and housewife, told Reuters. “The problem is people are becoming greedy.”

Here are some images of the people and places in one of India’s most beautiful corners, shot by Reuters photographer Cathal McNaughton:

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Playing polo in Leh, high up in the Himalayas. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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The sun sets on a Leh school playground. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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Children look down from the Royal Palace in Leh. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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Travel agent, Stanton Othsil, 29, said, “More tourists are coming now, especially Indians who are spending more money.” (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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Phunchok Angmo, 33, is a mathematics teacher. When asked how living in the world’s fastest-growing major economy had affected life, Angmo replied: “The children here no longer care about culture. They spend less time talking to each other. They spend their free time on laptops.” (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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“Our culture is spoilt now. We don’t wear our traditional dress,” said Tsewang Dolma, 33, a farmer and housewife in the village of Matho. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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According to 65-year-old Dorsey Takapa, a retired goat herder, “Traditional values are being lost as we focus on money.” (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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Tsering Dolma, a 51-year-old housewife and farmer in Matho, said there have been benefits from the tourist boom. “We can now afford new machinery due to subsidies, which makes our job much easier.” (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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For Testing Yangchan, a 60-year-old housewife, “Medical facilities are much better although crime has risen.” (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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According to mountain guide Tsering Gurmet, 28, “Life has become much easier and much more comfortable, although we are losing our traditions.” (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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The sun sets in Leh. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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Prayer flags stretch towards Tsemo Monastery in Leh. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
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